Harvey Penick, a great golf instructor who wrote a little red book I am reading, talked about how golf improvement is not linear. Golfers tend to make leaps forward to new plateaus of performance. The 20+ handicapper becomes the 15. The 15 handicapper drops to ten. The rate of improvement levels off once you get into the mid-single digits. I feel like I am on the verge of one of those steps forward. I hesitate to talk about it as this game has humbled me time after time when I believed I had turned a corner. More often than not, I would turn the corner and find myself standing right back where I started. A few gains I have recently made seem durable, and I want to capture them to reflect on when I inevitably lose my way again.
There are few parts of golf that bore me more than putting. I do not enjoy practicing it. I do not much care for the mechanics or logic behind it. Generally, I'm fine with a quick two putt. That was, until I learned 36 putts in a round is pretty bad. Not only that, but I was often checking in at 38-40 putts.
I started practicing in between meetings in my office and tracking my putts in a spreadsheet to figure out where my misses were and whether my stroke was improving.
After a few days of at least 150 putts, I was able to go from making about 45% of my eight foot flat putts to around 70% after some grip and stroke changes.
That was good enough for me, and my putts per round dropped to between 30 and 35 in most cases. I plateaued there for a few months and stopped practicing my putting.
Recently, I have tried a few different grips and found I had lost my way a bit with just rolling a straight putt on flat ground. I was now closer to 60% makes in my office setup.
Over the last week I made a couple changes, and have seen my make rate increase to 90% for a sustained set of days. I went to an indoor range today that had a practice putting green and made multiple 30 foot putts.
Well, these may not be new things for most golfers, but they are working now for me, so I will try to explain.
First, I am starting my hands toward the target so my hands get ahead of the ball a bit, and the putter head tips down, before I begin my backswing.
The real impetus of these changes came when I saw video of my putting stroke from ground level on the course. I was topping the golf ball and my putter was way too far off the ground.
That led to my second change, which was to keep the club closer to the ground so that I was hitting the center of the ball more often. The combination of the first move that tilted the handle forward and this focus on keeping the club near the ground combined to give me more consistent contact.
Those have been big improvements, but they would be far less valuable if I had not also figured out how to keep my face square through contact.
I was having a real problem leaving my club face open on contact and pushing my putts above the hole, even from close range. What finally clicked was when I internalized manipulating the clubface while working on my full swing on irons and woods by twisting my lead wrist toward the ground. This is the supination that Ben Hogan talks about.
I realized that my lead wrist on my putter could also play a large role in manipulating the club face. I focused on keeping my thumb, that was on top of the grip, steady through contact. As long as that thumb did not rotate forward or backward, my clubface should theoretically stay square.
That has proven to be true so far. I made 15 straight putts from eight feet away when I had previously never made more than six in a row.
The final thing I did was really focus on the 25%/75% rule that Penick talks about where your backstroke should be 25% of the distance your putter covers and your follow through after contact should comprise 75% of that distance. Short back, long through.
I had heard this plenty of times before, but I had trouble getting enough power on my putts because I was likely topping the ball and hitting it on all different face angles. The other changes, combined with this one, have given me more control over distance and direction.
Now, none of this means it will hold together on the course when I go out tomorrow, but I am hopeful.
I have a ton of issues with my swing. The biggest are:
- I have had trouble scooping instead of compressing the ball, which adds a ton of loft, shortens my distances, and contributes to the golfer's elbow I have been fighting for the last six months.
- I tend to cast the club, losing the angle in my wrists, and a lot of power in the process
- I often hang back too much, and do not get my weight out on my front foot
It is a little hard to judge in the winter with wind and rain, but my best guess is that I hit my 7 iron about 150 yards right now. Far worse, I hit my 5 iron about 165 yards.
My ball flight is way too high, and my contact is sporadic.
There are a few things that give me some hope of an improvement heading into the weekend.
The biggest is working on weight transfer. I invested in some swing speed trainers that I will write a review for after I get more experience with them, but the training itself has helped me get a better feel for what good weight transfer can do for swing speed.
Just the simple drill of starting with two feet together, taking your backswing, striding toward the target, and then unleashing the downswing, is a really good way to get that feeling.
I also saw a TikTok video from Danny Maude about how to create a DIY balance board by taking any plank of wood and putting it over the grip of a club. Put one foot on either side, and start with your weight on the front foot, which keeps the back foot off the ground.
You then rock back onto your back foot on the backswing, and rock back forward to the front foot before initiating the downswing. That "motion of the ocean" feeling has been helpful in figuring out the timing of my weight shift and also helped me with my tempo.
Lead wrist supination is also a big deal that I'm just starting to figure out. I have heard it explained a million different ways, but what is working for me right now is the swing thought of getting the thumb of my lead hand to at least 10 o'clock at the point of impact. It is physically impossible for me to get the thumb to that position without supinating my wrist at least a little. It forces my knuckles down to the ground.
I still don't think I have my release figured out. I don't get the club around as quickly as I should. I'm not even sure I'm doing it the right way. Interestingly, I just noticed while watching video that the club head is getting twisted back when it impacts the ball. It's almost as if the club head needs to be even more closed at impact to compensate. But I digress.
I am also trying to get my back elbow pinned to my side as my weight shifts forward before I begin my downswing. This is the "magic move" that Penick talks about.
I think I am doing it, but video begs to differ. Trying to shallow out my swing without starting my backswing too far inside continues to be a struggle. It is just one too many things to think about right now. I have too many swing thoughts on my downswing.
Related, I am trying to drop my hands without losing the angle of my wrists, even increasing the angle if possible. That is a major work in progress. I can do it on practice swings, but my swings with a ball get me right back to casting.
I just don't trust the club to get where it needs to go. This is probably my number one wish list item: to develop a feel or swing thought that allows me to internalize how I get from a big lag angle with my hands near my back thigh, to a club head squared to the ball a split second later.
My hope is that some of these other building blocks will help me get there.
Finally, I am trying to keep my hands back longer as I start my downswing. This seemed to increase my swing speed from 85 MPH to over 90 MPH.
Overall, I went from an average of a 20 degree launch and 144 yards of average distance about 10 days ago with my 7 iron, to an 18 degree launch angle and 157 yards of average distance.
You can see I am getting some extreme pulls due to the club face shutting too much, but I like the general direction the swing is headed. I don't have a specific goal in mind, but I feel like if I can hit my 7 iron 160-170, a lot of other distances should fall in place.
A big goal is to consistently hit my 4 iron 200 yards or more. I was around 180 today, with my longest at 197 yards.
A BIG problem that should be a simple solve is the ball position. It is still way too far back in my stance. I have some sort of mental block and think the ball is up near my lead ankle when it is more than halfway back to my back foot. This is really messing a lot of stuff up.
Just a few quick notes on my driver. You would think I would be thrilled to split the fairway with a 250 yard drive. I really should be. But I'm not.
I was striping drive after drive today, but my attack angle is basically flat and sometimes negative. It needs to be at least 5.5 degrees and ideally 6 or over. When I was hitting closer to 300 yards in April, my attack angle was consistently around 6 degrees and sometimes closer to seven.
My swing speed is still down, and some of that is due to the heavy shaft I am using. I rarely get above 102 MPH, when I had been at 107-110 MPH with a lighter shaft in April. That was a regular flex, and I needed to be swinging an extra stiff.
That has helped tighten my dispersion, but has cost me some speed.
Setting speed aside, I have to figure out how to get my attack angle back. My instructor had me tilt backwards at address, and I thought that would do the trick, but it did not.
My best drive today was 263 yards, with a 1.47 smash factor, but the attack angle was 1.7 degrees, and my spin rate was 2348 rpm. If that had been a 6 degree attack angle, the spin rate would have been in the 1000 range, and the ball would have traveled another 10+ yards.
The good news is that I found myself really making solid contact with a simple swing thought toward the end of focusing on a spot about three feet past the ball and about two feet outside the ball. Instead of trying to hit the ball, I focused on trying to hit that spot. That seemed to keep my hands back and angles held longer. This might be part how I trick my brain to stop worrying about how to get my hands through to contact with lag.
Whatever the reason, that helped my get a smash factor of 1.49, 1.49, and 1.47 after I started using that trick. My distances jumped from 245-250 to 260-263 yards. My swing speed was a paltry 97-99 mph, so I'm hopeful there is more distance waiting for me when my swing speed increases.